Endangered species and spaces
May 29, 2017
The delays currently facing two major city projects because of endangered species could be the tip of the iceberg given the massive declines in mammal, bird and other vertebrates displaced by human activity and especially global climate change. Provincial authorities are allowing the public to comment on the city’s request for an exemption from the Endangered Species Act for the Confederation Park sport fields proposals, and that opportunity may also eventually occur over a multi-million dollar road extension from the Ancaster business park.
The Cormorant Road extension has already been determined to affect the habitat of two rare birds – the Eastern Meadowlark and the Bobolink – and an assessment of possible use by bats along the path of the latter project is expected to take place this summer. When approved by council in 2014 this 700 metres of road construction was already priced at $4.5 million.
Originally the responsibility of Valeri Business Park who own most of the land crossed by the road, the extension is now being funded by the city with a ten percent contribution from the landowner. It will also extend water and sewer services to the very edge of the city’s urban boundary adjacent to the Ancaster Fair Grounds although it isn’t clear who this will benefit.
From roads to subdivisions to sporting facilities, municipalities like Hamilton have generally been able to assume that additional consumption of both foodlands and natural areas can continue with minimal legal consequences because of wildlife presence. But both federal and provincial legislation are formally committed to protecting endangered wildlife and their habitat, and the numbers of threatened species is rapidly increasing.
Late last year, for example, “a comprehensive report by the World Wildlife Federation and the Zoological Society of London found that wild animal populations dropped by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012, and will likely reach a 67 per cent drop by 2020 if nothing is done to prevent the decline.” Multiple causes were identified including loss of habitat, pollution, invasive species and climate change.
Another study calculated that “humans have destroyed a tenth of Earth’s remaining wilderness in the last 25 years” – an area equivalent to two Alaskas. A third recent investigation focused specifically on North America combined information from dozens of government, academic and environmental agencies and concluded that 1.5 billion birds have been lost. It listed 86 species “that are threatened by plummeting populations, habitat destruction and climate change” with 22 of those having “already lost at least half of their population since 1970”.
Even well-known and recently abundant species like Monarch Butterflies are now listed as endangered in Canada. So far Monarchs haven’t been allocated that status in Ontario so are not yet covered by the provincial rules affecting bats and other designated species.
The former campgrounds at Confederation Park which were naturalized as part of the compensation for the Red Hill Parkway have been one of the areas in the city where Monarchs have hung on, although in diminishing numbers. The city’s plans would clear most of this area for a cricket pitch, a dozen pickle ball courts, and a 320 space parking lot accessed by a new entrance off the North Service Road.
The presence of nesting and hibernation areas for bats has triggered the city’s application for an exemption under the Endangered Species Act – which requires convincing the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry that an “overall benefit” to the affected species can be achieved through city actions.
“Providing an overall benefit to a protected species under the ESA involves undertaking actions to improve circumstances for the species in Ontario,” states the notice posted on the environmental registry and open for public comment until June 2. “Overall benefit is more than ‘no net loss’ or an exchange of ‘like for like’. Overall benefit is grounded in the protection and recovery of the species at risk and must include more than mitigation measures or ‘replacing’ what is lost.”
The posting suggests options could include abandoning or redesigning the Confederation Park plans or developing alternative habitat. But the actual permit application and the city plans are not included with the registry posting. Ministry staff say that can only be obtained from the city.